Friday, November 02, 2007

Re-crossing the rubicon-II

The previous column set the stage for understanding the differences that were causing political opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal. The assertion was that the opposition was primarily based on the aspect of “independent foreign policy”. While the protagonists are suggesting that the deal would in fact ensure that the “independent foreign policy” of India would have more leeway through the culmination of the deal, the antagonists suggest that the strategic embrace by America would essentially make India a subordinate ally to the hegemon, drastically reducing the width of independence in foreign policy matters. We shall try to work a bit more on these arguments, trying to establish the rationale for the same, in the course of this essay.

The shift in foreign policy toward closeness with the US over the past few years in India, has been justified by the protagonists as being necessitated because of a convergence of interests and not because of a quid pro quo or pressure from the hegemon. The nuclear deal is seen as a logical culmination of this shift. Thus, in the updated world order (since the collapse of the socialist bloc), it was in India's interests to play the balance of power game in Asia, work upon to neutralise the growing hard power capability of China, continue to have the leverage to act unilaterally in the environs of the south Asian region to confront terror (which has sympathy and support from other nations) and so on. For these strategic thinkers, who have thrived on this understanding of neo-realism, the shift of an even closer relationship with the United States is no leap from moralpolitik to realpolitik, but mere updation of realist needs. Getting the nuclear deal done, would place India in the high table of powers, being recognised as a responsible nuclear power, and provide it with an ability to partake on decisions that affect the world. With a booming economy (notwithstanding the appalling degree of inequality and continuing poverty), India could now have a decisive say on affairs of regulating international issues, is the argument made by the pro-deal enthusiasts. A new ability to use “soft power”, i.e economic aid and humanitarian missions, to suit the national interests, would be guaranteed now, such is the opinion.
The strategic closeness between India and the United States is asked to be necessitated because of the immediate threat that supposedly faces both these nations- radical pan-international terror. Realists see this as a threat to the liberal international order of states and ask for closer state co-ordination in order to eliminate this threat, termed as 'jihad'. The engagement and military balance against China is seen to re-order the balance of power both in the region and internationally.

How do the antagonists to this deal react on the same area of contestation - strategic affairs? They argue that the so-called convergence of interests doesn't really exist. India's historical foreign policy, even if moored in realism, has a priority that is not quite shared by American hegemonic interests. The American emphasis on unilaterism and on concepts such as pre-emption in use of military power as well as the new strong ideological impetus on hard power capabilities to continue to establish the American empire (as articulated by the Vulcans in the neo-conservative US establishment) is in odds with Indian interests. No amount of cohabition with American interests will help solve India's cross border problems and interests in maintaining peace in the near-environs. Long standing engagement with China is a must not just for the region, but also to establish a genuine trading order beneficial to the citizenry in both the nations. And threats to India's security cannot be merely tackled by tactics such as pre-emption or big-brotherliness in the neighbourhood, but by creating enough avenues of positive engagement, as shown by the Gujral doctrine in the mid-nineties (fruits of which are already seen in relations with countries such as Sri Lanka and Nepal).

The antagonists say that those who support the closeness with American hegemony to tackle terror, do not understand the structural reasons for the rise of terror in itself. The US has always strived to control energy resources across the world and while doing so, has created vast swathes of disenchantment in areas of west Asia, for e.g. The disenchantment has given rise to radical tendencies and more US pressure and unilateral action has actually been the reason for the sustenance of forces such as the Al Qaeda. Today, the US-Israeli power axis is moving toward creating more problems in the region by adopting a hard stance against the Iranian state, least bothered about the problem that it will only force Iran to act even more hostile. India cannot and must not ignore the threats to its own security if the US plays on notions such as the “clash of civilisations” thesis to underline its hegemonic actions across the world. India has vital energy and strategic interests in Iran, which will be wrecked if the US has its way as it had done in Iraq.

The whole balance of power game against China also has its shortcomings. China affirms to move toward a peaceful development programme, and to concentrate on mitigating its own internal problems effectively. The unnecessary ratcheting up of notions of the Chinese threat would only invite hostility at a time, when the scope of improvement of relations has been never better before. Russia, a time tested ally has also expressed serious disappointment with the way India has steadily eroded it's ties of friendship. A senior ex-diplomat and specialist in the Russian-Central Asian region, M.K.Bhadrakumar pointed out how India was losing out on a stable partnership with the Russians by embarking on a path of gradual erosion of ties, through lack of people-to-people contact, etc. A strategic embrace of relations with the United States would further undercut this problem.

More importantly, a critique is made of the “coming together of democracies”argument. Despite the formal similarity in the processes that determine formation of leadership and power in both the nations (i.e regular elections and democratic processes), a substantive evaluation would belie this understanding. The US is still ruled by elite interests, which regulate the distribution of power internally, and whose interests (i.e. Big capital interests) in the world require the perpetuation of hegemony and control over other sovereigns through various forms of pressure. It is the interest of “big capital” that has overseen the machinations in west Asia and the current quagmire in Iraq. It is indeed the interests of this section that has dictated structural adjustment economic policies of post-colonial nations, and obviously it is this interest that ultimately suggests a concert of closeness with India. One cannot divorce class interests from determining how the power game in the world plays out. The opposition in India, particularly the left, is aware of this and has articulated its opposition to the nuclear deal and the strategic partnership with the United States acutely opposed to such interests.

Is “independent foreign policy” in a world dominated by hegemonic interests of an unilateral superpower a chimera? Is there just one way of running a nation (the American “free market” way or the highway) and just one way of determining foreign policy prerogatives (contain and repel any force that is working against the logic of free markets)? These are the primary questions that have been pitched onto the debating circles as India embarks on its decision whether or not to sign a caveat-loaded nuclear deal with the United States. We will explore as to what indeed are the options and policies that would drive India's “independent” foreign policy in the forthcoming sections.

(To be continued).

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